Saturday, March 14, 2015

Inner Wear

Because of all the crappy weather we were having, the setup running late and the meeting starting early, the client thought it would be a good idea to put us up at a hotel. A good call, and very considerate. But since it was a game time decision, I hadn't packed a bag. No matter; there is a drug store every 73 feet in New York by civic statute, so obtaining basic toiletries was not an issue. Likewise, there are clothing outlets ranging from discount to specialty to full service department stores, so inner and outer wear was there for the buying.

After making a quick stop to get shaving supplies and the like, I headed into a large emporium in Manhattan called Century 21. It has just about everything, billing itself as a designer outlet. Indeed, it has such good prices on iconic names that it is often filled with foreign tourists anxious to experience American consumerism at its finest. After all, coming to the Big Apple means not just seeing the Statue of Liberty, but scoring a Gucci blouse at 40% off.

Now, at one point in my life I enjoyed shopping for clothes and would cruise around looking at shirts and sweaters and the like. While I still appreciate nice things, I've become more utilitarian as I have aged. And so I'm less likely to buy a new thing to wear unless I have a specific reason. If my blue shirt starts to fray, I will get a new one. If the elastic in my socks gives out, I'm all in for a new pair. And when the freshly laundered underwear my wife puts back in my drawer starts to resemble the Shroud of Turin, I will head out to buy a new package.

Note that I said "package" and not "pair." While you can certainly buy underwear for men one by one, far more of the stuff gets sold in sets of 3 or 5. Walk into your favorite store for basics, be it Macy's or Kohl's, and you can find packages of Jockey or Hanes or Fruit of Loom, all more or less the same, and all usually on sale. Pick your size and style, and you can be out the door in under 2 minutes. Contrast that with women's undies. While also available in similar packaging, change the name from "underwear" to "lingerie," and it has become the basis of an entire ecosystem and industry, spawning everything from the Victoria's Secret chain to Madonna's tour wardrobe to John Paul Gautier's entire spring collection.

Men's underwear, by contrast, usually flies below the radar. I dare say (and surveys back me up) that most men buy a few pairs, keep the stuff until it's time to replace it, and that's the whole story. There are a exceptions when it moves to the headlines, like Bill Clinton's infamous boxers vs briefs spotlight on MTV in 1994, and a young Mark Wahlberg posing in his Calvin's on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1992, echoed this year in an ad featuring Justin Bieber. To paraphrase Lloyd Benson, Justin, you're no Marky Mark.

But back to my shopping expedition. I quickly scored a few shirts that would work, and grabbed some socks. But when it came time for underwear, I was stopped in my tracks. It wasn't just the basic boxer or briefs (or boxer briefs) assortment, but half a floor of designer men's necessities. There were offerings from virtually every major name in a rainbow of colors in cottons, silks and blends. And while there were rack after rack of single drawers, there were an equally intimidating assortment of the packaged version. It took me a good 15 minutes of picking up and putting down to find some basic basics that wouldn't test my credit limit. In the end I found got my usual 5 pack, but only after I wandered into the furthermost reaches of the department, almost like they were trying to hide them.  

Were it not for my immediate need, perhaps I could have done as I do for almost every purchase today and turn to the internet. There I could go to a place like, and even order the 365 pack. Yes, that's right: for just $4000 you can have a fresh pair of basics (men's or women's) for every day of the year. Marky Mark would be proud.


Marc Wollin of Bedford sleeps in boxers. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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